That binary choice is a little overly simplistic, admittedly. It asks people to choose between two polar opposites, when they might be more in the middle. But when asked whether they support Congress’s investigation of Jan. 6, GOP support for the probe isn’t much higher. Just 29 percent of Republicans support the probe.
It might be tempting to view this as a symptom of how the probe is being conducted, rather than the necessity of some kind of investigation. Republicans cried foul over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejecting GOP picks for the select committee, and Republicans voted overwhelmingly against both an independent commission and Pelosi’s fallback plan for a select committee.
But polling suggests that’s not really the case — that this really is about just not wanting to investigate at all.
Back in May, as Senate Republicans were killing the independent commission, pollster YouGov asked questions about this. Republicans opposed the commission 61 percent to 23 percent, but they also opposed really any kind of investigation. The pollster asked which of these options people agreed with more:
- “We still need to find out the truth of what happened.”
- “There have been enough investigations already.”
By a 62-to-27 percent margin, Republicans said the matter had been investigated sufficiently already.
That verdict was particularly striking given Congress, well, hadn’t actually produced any big investigative products. It had held hearings, yes, but the first big report on intelligence and security failures, a bipartisan product of the Senate, wouldn’t arrive for another two weeks. Despite this, less than five months after the insurrection, Republicans didn’t see the need to look into how this happened.
Perhaps most tellingly, it’s a huge contrast to how the party viewed the Benghazi investigations.
For months and years after the 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi that killed four Americans, Fox News’s pollsters asked similar questions about people’s appetite for investigating it. And Republicans’ appetite was voracious and long-lasting.
In June 2013 — nine months after the attack — 88 percent of Republicans said they supported continuing to investigate. In November 2013 and February 2014, it was 83 percent. By April 2014, it was still only slightly diminished, at 77 percent.
In May 2014, the House GOP added a select committee to its previous investigations, bringing the total number to a half-dozen. The committee issued its final big report in June 2016.
But a full year later — in June 2017 — Fox News asked a similar question again. And lo and behold: 65 percent of Republicans still said it was either “extremely” or “very” important that the investigations into Benghazi continue.
This was just shy of five years after the attack, after six congressional investigations, including a select committee run by Republicans that had concluded its work. And nearly two-thirds of Republicans wanted to keep probing. That’s similar to the number of Republicans who basically said it was time to move on from investigating Jan. 6 even before the first big report landed.
It’s worth emphasizing that situations like these aren’t, of course, totally analogous. One was a terrorist attack overseas on a U.S. mission, while another was a riot at the Capitol perpetrated by Americans. But both involved a similar number of deaths. Both involved intelligence failures in the lead-up. And both are seemingly the kind of thing people would want to avoid a repeat of.
The other big and inescapable parallel, of course, is the centrality of the two parties’ effective political standard-bearers. Benghazi occurred on Hillary Clinton’s watch as secretary of state — and she wound up testifying on multiple occasions — while Jan. 6 transpired after President Donald Trump pushed bogus claims of a stolen election that clearly animated the insurrectionists.
That experience clearly colors GOP resistance to really any kind of probing of Jan. 6. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has led that resistance, in the past, held up the Benghazi select committee as essentially a political success because it damaged Clinton ahead of her 2016 presidential campaign.
But while it’s understandable that politics might color views, Republicans are significantly more opposed to Jan. 6 probes than Democrats were to Benghazi probes. In the same June 2013 Fox News poll — around the same time we are now post-Jan. 6 — 58 percent of Democrats said they wanted continued investigations. It was 50 percent in February 2014. The number eventually dropped to 42 percent in April 2014, on the eve of the creation of the select committee.
But by that point, it was a year and a half after the attack, and we had seen at least four separate investigative reports by multiple House committees. And Democrats were still more supportive of investigating than Republicans were less than five months after Jan. 6, before we truly knew much of anything about what had happened.